Between 2009 and 2019 the numbers of traffic on minor roads in the UK doubled, according to regional numbers published last year. The most commonly identified reason for this is the rise in the use of sat-navs which often reroute people via circuitous routes involving residential back streets. Not only does this also mean that there are many more cars on these roads, but it also vastly increases wear on road surfaces, levels of noise and air pollution and increases the risk of road traffic accidents.
To try to reduce this rise in traffic, many authorities across the country have introduced low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). These schemes take advantage of what is known as ‘modal filters’, such as planters and bollards or even perhaps camera enforced signs, to help stop through traffic on residential roads. Pedestrians and cyclists may still utilise LTNs, it is only motor vehicles that are restricted from access. In response to the COVID pandemic, many councils have taken this opportunity to establish more LTN’s, particularly throughout the London boroughs.
The introduction of LTN’s has been a divisive issue to say the least, particularly those utilising camera enforcement. Southwark council revealed recently that they had generated £2.5 million of revenue in only 3 months of the scheme, according to the Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Praise and criticism have been handed out in equal measure and it seems that all sides have their own evidence to support their arguments.
The Argument Against
The main point of concern for those opposing the introduction of LTN’s is the effect that it has on the effectiveness of our emergency services. The police, including Dame Cressida Dick, have spoken of the impact they have on both police response vehicles and ambulances. Residents feel that due to poor planning, LTN’s are perhaps putting their lives at risk.
This is a worthy concern. Councils should be making sure that they consult extensively with emergency services before introducing LTN’s. In various instances, councils have had to remove or amend LTN measures following consultation with emergency service reps.
The 2nd point is that the introduction of LTN’s is able to discrimination against poorer communities. Some commentators have also gone so far as to call it a ‘culture war’, blaming authorities for introducing LTN’s in areas that clearly benefit already ‘better-off’ communities.
The Argument For
While the arguments against LTN’s are very vocal, it does seem that they are in the minority. Surveys suggest that public opinion is at around 51% for those that back LTN’s whilst between 16% – 20% went against the measures.
Supporters have been fast to point out that LTN’s aren’t a new thing on UK streets. Research from the BikeIsBest Campaign has shown that there are in excess of 25,000 LTN’s throughout the UK, with the actual figure thought to be much higher. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Adam Traore from BikeIsBest stated:
“There has been a lot in the press about LTNs, but the reality is that they are not new ideas. They are a relatively natural response by local councils to the ever changing traffic patterns as cities continue to grow and have now become a standard feature in the design of new towns since the mid 1960s.”
On top of this, the most commonly quoted issues regarding LTN’s have consistently been proven to be either false or balanced out by other considerations. In example, response times for emergency responses may be impacted however campaigners point to the fitness and obesity epidemic in the UK. They argue that LTN’s encourage people to move a lot more and can help reduce some of the other stresses on our healthcare system such as diabetes and heart disease.
Aside from already being a common feature on UK roads, LTNs obviously have a positive effect on air pollution levels on residential streets. Considering London recently recorded its first ever death caused by air pollution, councils have a responsibility to make sure that measures are being taken to prevent any more.
LTN’s are not a straightforward issue, clearly. The evidence indicates that in instances where LTN’s are poorly planned or without proper consultation, there is a clear impact to services and business. However, when installed correctly, it appears that the benefits do outweigh the downsides.